Why it makes perfect sense for a software company to publish a print magazine
Magazines might be printed on dried dead tree goop, but print is not dead. We launched our own Relate by Zendesk print magazine last year, and it was well worth the lumber offering. And some other sacrifices too (more on that later).
1. A space invader
First, the obvious: a print magazine is a powerful way to reach people. We’re all under constant attention-attack and our minds are experts at filtering out the noise. An email is quickly deleted and a display ad easily ignored. But a physical object that lands on your desk or in your tote has to be touched — even if it’s just to throw it in the bin. It establishes contact. It requires space — and requests attention. And if deemed worthy, it will end up on a coffee table or in a book shelf. Where it will be picked up again. And again.
For our first magazine, we went for an oversized format and thick paper stock. It lands on your desk with a heavy thump and whispers: Hold on to me.
2. A sensual touch
From touching to being touched: If the magazine is beautiful and exciting, chances are that it will be flicked through. (In case you haven’t guessed, our own magazine is beautiful and exciting. I think a lot of people flicked through it). A flick. And a flood of sensations. The musky ink on earthy paper. The sound of the sheets. The smooth and rough textures … sounds x-rated? It’s definitely a sensuous experience. And it’s all brand information that digital can’t provide.
We used four different paper stocks for our magazine and crowned it with a bit of matte gold foil on the cover. Feel it. Rub it. Ahhh.
3. A deep conversation
Websites are scanned in a few seconds, ads are skipped over, and alerts keep deflecting attention to new places. A magazine, on the other hand, invites a focused, engaged interaction. Studies show that we read more slowly on paper. And we’re less likely to multitask. Which in turn means we’re digesting more information. If people spend 20 minutes with our magazine, that’s quality time that lays the foundation for establishing customer relationships.
We opened with short pieces that welcome readers into the magazine. Smaller, bit-sized how-to pages interject some humour into the longer pieces further back in the book. And a separate Zendesk product insert wraps it all up with a subtle sales pitch.
4. A solid marker in time
Us tech companies, we tend to operate in alphas, betas and iterations. Launch fast. Fix as you go along. Magazines don’t operate like that. They launch Issue 1 and then Issue 2. There’s no issue 1.013b released a week after launch. What’s printed is printed, forever etched into dried dead tree goop. Testing things makes perfect sense, but a magazine can be a good counter-exercise. An experiment in perfectionism and making things matter. And it really does matter. It’s not completely rational, but we are instinctively more likely to trust what’s printed. When it comes to stating the facts, there’s nothing quite like the printed front page of the New York Times. Even if some forces try to make you think otherwise.
It goes without saying that there is no fake news in our magazine. We picked content that is relevant but doesn’t date too fast. It’s got shelf life. (Literally.)
5. A brand laboratory
Branding means keeping things consistent. (Like: No, please don’t colour every letter in our wordmark a different shade of the rainbow! And no, you can’t use that highly emotional lense-flare-sunrise-over-Grand-Canyon picture that you think really resonates with your audience instead of the official artwork!). But you also want to make sure the brand keeps up with who you are as a company and what the market wants. A print magazine can be the perfect brand laboratory. Unlike your 100 million dollar brand campaign that distills everything into one image and a sentence, here you have the real estate to play it safe on one page and then take a risk overleaf. The reader wants variation and surprise over the course of a 100 pages. Give it to him. Using the corporate font in a slightly different way? Try it. Testing a new photography or illustration style? Just give it a go. You might discover something great.
We’ve experimented with a lot of new illustration styles in our first magazine. Marcus Oakley’s drawings really stood out and we’ve made the look the connecting tissue of our Relate Live conference in New York.
A print magazine is totally amazing. We loved creating it. But back to those sacrifices. Here are some things we learned along the way. Grab some dried dead tree goop and t Take note.
Go for the right format
Think about where and how you want people to engage with your printed piece. Our magazine is big and heavy. It works well when it lands on people’s desks or displayed in our lobby. It might not be ideal at trade shows where attendees get bombarded with material and have to stomp around exhibition halls all day long. For that scenario, you may want to consider a more practical piece like a newspaper.
Pick the right audience and channel
Who do you want to reach? Potential customers? Existing ones? Top level management that you want to engage with the brand without going into too much detail? Or specialised staff that work with your product day in and out? Make sure you create the appropriate content.
Don’t underestimate the workload
Even if you outsource the bulk of development to an agency, creating quality content for a full-size magazine requires time and effort in-house too. You’ll probably find yourself locating the right stories and talent, coordinating interviews and photoshoots, and managing review and approval processes. A good chunk of the cost goes to printing and as we’ve established, when it’s printed, it’s printed. Set yourself up for success by allocating appropriate capacity.
Engage with the craft of creating a print piece
You decided to create a printed product. Don’t just throw a design together on a screen and send it off to the printers. Engage with the physical aspects of the craft. Look at different papers and discover how they impact your message. Learn about different printing techniques and figure out what suits your project best. Have proofs made and see how images and colour appear different when printed. Go to the printer on the day of print and help fine-tune colours. You will learn a lot and grow as a designer.
Don’t forget about logistics
Distribution is the hidden cost in publishing a magazine. Shipping is expensive and small weight and size variations can have a big impact on cost. Are you planning to hand it out at events or send it to individual customers? Do you want to start a subscription service? Make sure you ask these questions in the beginning and factor them into your budget.
So, ready to publish your own magazine? Siskin is the charming editorial design studio that helped us get our first magazine off the ground. We loved working with them and you might want to give them a ring. Or join our in-house creative team at Zendesk. We’d love to rub that paper with you.
P.S. After all those evocative words, you want to touch the thing IRL? Drop us a note here and we’ll send you a copy. (Oh, and fear not — we used recycled paper.)
We like making new friends. Let keep this going. Check out design.zendesk.com for more thought leadership, design process, and other creative musings.